A prominent Israeli professor is at the center of controversy concerning his deciphering an inscription dated to the 8th century BCE that was discovered at the Siloam Spring in Jerusalem. The professor claims that the inscription refers to Biblical King Hezekiah and “emphasizes the reliability of the Bible.” But his critics disagree.
The story began two weeks ago when Prof. Gershon Galil, a Professor of Biblical Studies and Ancient History and former chair of the Department of Jewish History at the University of Haifa, announced that he had successfully deciphered five royal inscriptions of King Hezekiah, including hundreds of letters and dozens of lines of text. The inscriptions, etched into the walls of the City of David’s Hezekiah Tunnel in Jerusalem, described the King’s accomplishments during the first 17 years of his kingship, which began in the late 8th century BCE and continued into the early 7th century BCE. These included the water project (the cutting of the Siloam Tunnel and the pool), ritual reform, the conquest of Philistia, and property accumulation. Dating to the Late Bronze Age II (probably 1400-1300 BCE), seven inscriptions in total were discovered in 2007 by archaeologist Eli Shukron and Ronny Reich in an area known as the “Pillar Temple” near a man-made pool in the Siloam tunnel. In the 15 years since they were discovered, the inscriptions had not been deciphered.
Prof.Galil described his finding in-depth on his Facebook page.
One inscription measuring 5.3 inches long by 3.8 inches wide features two lines of writing containing six letters inscribed in Old Hebrew script. Until Prof. Galil released his results this month.
The three letters of the first line of the inscription, (z)q y h, are part of a single word which has been reconstructed as:
ח]זקיה] / [H]zqyh / [He]zekiah.
The initial letter h/ח is missing (Hebrew is read from right to left and doesn’t contain vowels.)
The first word of the second line includes the two letters kh and is reconstructed as:
ב]רכה] / [br]kh / bricha (berecha) or pool in English.
Again, the initial letter is broken off. Then, there is a dot that follows and a third letter. The dot was used to separate words so the third letter is the start of a new word.
Prof. Galil concluded the full inscription was:
“Hezekiah made the pool in Jerusalem.”
A parallel passage found in 2 Kings 20:20 reads:
“As for the other events of Hezekiah’s reign, all his achievements and how he made the pool and the tunnel by which he brought water into the city…”
“This is an extremely important discovery that changes [some basic assumptions of] research, since until today it was commonly accepted that the kings of Israel and Judah, unlike the kings of the ancient Middle East, did not make themselves royal inscriptions and monuments… to commemorate their achievements,” said Galil.
“The Israeli kings were indeed mentioned in extra-biblical Assyrian, Babylonian, Aramaic, Moabite inscriptions as well as on Hebrew seal impressions,” added Galil, “but this is the first time that a fragment of a monumental Hebrew royal inscription has been deciphered that mentions the name of the king whose achievements were detailed in it.”
“The discovery strengthens the approach of researchers who emphasize the reliability of the Bible, since it teaches that right in front of the eyes of the Bible’s authors stood monuments with royal inscriptions… [engraved at the very] time of the kings mentioned in the Bible,” he continued.
Galil’s conclusion was affirmed by Dr. Peter van der Veen of Germany’s Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz who came to the same conclusion in 2009. His claim was published in a German-language journal at that time.
But a group of 34 archaeologists and researchers released a public statement on Saturday criticizing Galil’s claims. The open letter, published on the blog of Bar-Ilan University Prof. Aren Maeir, did not mention Galil by name nor did it dispute his conclusions or methods.The letter criticized Galil’s method of publicizing his study.
“Occasionally, and up until recent days, archaeological finds and discoveries (that are at times presented as revolutionary and game changers in the history of the Land of Israel) have been published in the popular press and on social media, prior to peer review, and to the full presentation, with high quality illustrations, of these finds in scientific publications, even long after the initial public notification.
“As is clear to anyone dealing with science and research, one of the foundations of all research and discovery is that results must go through a process of peer review prior to publication, to check for quality, suggest improvements and comments, and in some cases, reject a suggestion. Without this process, research is conducted without proper checks and balances. In addition, research colleagues (in this case archaeologists and historians) cannot properly ascertain, and if need be disagree, with these claims.”
Prof. Maeir spoke to Times of Israel, acknowledging that he was skeptical of Galil’s findings based on his method of publicizing them.
“I wish it was true, and I hope it is. It would change everything that we know,” said Maeir of the recent Galil announcement. “But it’s like saying you’ve disproved Einstein’s theory of relativity, but you’ll only publish the findings on ‘Saturday Night Live.’”
A source who is close to the issue and the researchers involved commented on the condition of anonymity.
“Far more prominent and respected Israeli scholars declined to sign the statement than did sign it,” he said to Israel365 News. “The list is almost endless.”
The source also noted that Prof. Maeir, who posted the critical letter on his blog, edited at least one authoritative text co-written by Galil. Publicity is an important tool for funding archaeological research and has been used by Maeir who has been touted in the media as “Israel’s Indiana Jones” for his research at Tel Gath, the city described in the Bible as the home of Goliath and the location where a blinded Sampson knocked down the temple pillars.
“Galil is brilliant but problematic,” the source admitted. “He can be valuable as part of a team, but as a lead author or sole author, he can be impulsive. In general, I agree with the statement of the Israeli scholars, but there are exceptions to the expectation that findings be initially published in peer reviewed journals. Sometimes, it is expedient to publish in mainstream media, for example when there is a danger of academic piracy. This is especially true when the journals publish highly detailed photos.”